2015: Founded in Marin City, California
In the 1940s Black working families came from all over the U.S. for shipyard jobs. In the next decades, unemployment and drugs plagued this community. Few residents under 40 have any memory of an intact, healthy family. While most youth programs focus on tutoring and mentoring, Marin City Health & Wellness Center sees this as a mental health issue. In 2015 our CEO recruited Zared Lloyd to be Program Facilitator of The Defenders, to realize a vision of building a social enterprise to change Black boys’ behavior.
The Defenders currently works with African American teens in three southern Marin County (CA) schools: MLK/Bayside Academy and Willow Creek Academy (6-8 graders) and Tamalpais High School. Expansion plans include San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point, where Marin City Health & Wellness Center opened a clinic in March 2016.
Jordan,* like 95% of Defenders, has no father figure at home. When Zared met him he was shy & isolated: he didn’t look adults in the eye, never smiled, barely spoke. In March he set up a sales meeting with a popular, local restaurant where he “pitched” the benefits of purchasing products from The Defenders Paper Company, which sources from a Black-owned paper manufacturer that uses no toxic chemicals. Jordan closed the deal and got the business. His confidence soared.
Mark* lives with aunt and uncle. He was a “crack baby” at birth, and both parents were addicts. His father is trying to get his life together; his mom is still using. One of Mark’s friends was in The Defenders. Zared Lloyd, as Defenders Program Facilitator, has a question that he asks every young man he meets: “Do you know what you were born to do?” Mark could not give an answer, but his face lit up as he thought about it. Zared told Mark what he tells all young men: “You were born to change the world. How are you going to do that?” When Mark chose to join The Defenders, he had to commit to getting along with all other members: each Defender defends every other Defender. Mark had fights with boys before becoming a Defender, but now they work together as “brothers.”
*Real boys and their real stories, but not their real names.
Unique Challenges face African American boys
African Americans have a shared heritage in U.S. cities, one that is unique from Latinos or other ethnic groups. Over 50 years, Black communities have changed from working families to dysfunction: plagued by lack of jobs, housing restrictions, influence of drugs and incarceration. Our community health clinic sees that poor Black boys who lack role models get in trouble.
Of the 50 boys in The Defenders program, 98% lack a father figure, and most live in poverty and public housing. In this voluntary program, middle and high school boys attend weekly after-school trainings to learn entrepreneurism, sales, public speaking & financial management. We believe:
Healthcare + Health Education + Enterprise Zones
= Regenerative Families + Communities
The Defenders Paper Company is a scalable model of youth health & well-being that can create generational change. Everyone needs to buy bathroom tissue. Anyone who learns sales will always be able to find a job.